You’ve nominated Eleni Sikelianos as your artist to watch, how and when did you first come across her work?
Poet Eleni Sikelianos is the great granddaughter of the Greek poet Anghelos Sikelianos with whom I have an extended family connection. I held her in my arms when she was a baby while visiting California from New York City in 1966 to attend the celebrated Berkeley Poetry Festival, a young poet myself. And then I went on to help found The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery and (with Allen Ginsberg) the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, communities Eleni also sought out as she grew up and was pursuing a life in poetry. She later worked at The Poetry Project, and was a graduate student at Naropa, and also now teaches regularly during Naropa’s Summer Writing Program. She and her work are known in Greece and France, as she is translated and is published regularly in those countries. We have travelled to Greece together, have read in New York, and Colorado, and will both be part of a pedagogical and performance program in Casablanca, Morocco this coming spring. We are planning a longer collaboration that explores where our lives have intersected over the years, tracking our imaginations and dreams.
Having worked with Sikelianos in the past, what is your collaborative process like? Can you tell us a little bit about your work with Sikelianos?
We have written some texts together and performed together, doing highly vocalized readings of our poetry, with voices overlapping and in unison. Her work is expansive, lyrical, and expressive. Eleni has been a major figure in the “Front Range” community in Colorado and so we have also worked together at Naropa and on projects relating to poetry pedagogy, publishing and performance. She has been included in an essay anthology I have co-edited entitled CIVIL DISOBEDIENCES: Poetics and
She is an important and key teacher in what I deem the “outrider” ethos in contemporary poetry and poetics.
Politics in Action (Coffee House Press), and also performs work for the CD: “From Harry’s House”, produced by Ambrose Bye and edited by myself and Ambrose Bye. She has also been a featured actor in the movies of Ed Bowes, for which I have written scripts, including the movies Against the Slope of Social Speech and Entanglement. She is an important and key teacher in what I deem the “outrider” ethos in contemporary poetry and poetics.
Has your practice of Tibetan Buddhism and your work with the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado impacted your poetic sensibilities and the ways in which you interact with poetry?
Yes, I consider Buddhism and the practice of poetry as compatible, and they inform one another in my own life. From an early age I admired the poetries of Japan and China- Li Po, Tu Fu and many others, including the women of Heian Japan who wrote in “pillow books”. I found the freedom and inspiration to play with imagination and wild mind, as these poets did, as as well as ground myself in the “minute particulars” of daily “noticing” and investigation. I was later especially drawn to the vivid depictions of tantric deities – especially the feminine ones – and energies in Tibetan Buddhism. I became interested in creating states of mind within the poem that could be actualized in performance. Outrage, grief, hilarity. I began writing long modal structures as well, that build musically and linguistically. And my long epic feminist poem The Iovis Trilogy: Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment (Coffee House Press, winner of PEN Center 2012 Award for Poetry) is a vast landscape and montage that includes many performative sections as well as exegesis of Buddhist principles (as befits the traditional epic form). Another long poem-book, Structure of the World Compared to a Bubble, investigates the architecture of the Buddhist stupa of Borobudur in Indonesia in terms of the principles of Buddhist philosophy. Meditation requires emptying out, and there is a way that can be part of the poetic process as you notice what comes up. And you don’t have to “own” or be so identified with or invested in your work. It becomes more of an offering to the world than a career.
Is there a particular poem or piece of work by Sikelianos that especially speaks to you? Why?
Her new book The Living Detail of the Living and the Dead (Coffee House Press 2012) is explorative, generous and lyrical in it beautiful images and sweeps of language. I think she has a terrific “ear”. And she is looking at life (and death) from an eco-logical perspective with empathy and wisdom. There is a lightness of heart there as well. And risky choices.
Tell us why you chose Sikelianos as your nominee.
She has many worthy accomplishments and a fierce commitment to the path of poetry as a spiritual and activist path. She is a generous teacher and thinker. Her poems are not boxed into neat little containers. They range and run free. I think she sees poetry as a way to better communicate in a difficult world with an awareness to the increments and power of language: image, sound and intellect.
ANNE WALDMAN was born in Millville, New Jersey on April 2, 1945. She grew up on MacDougal Street in New York City. In 1966, she received her BA from Bennington College. From 1966 to 1978 she ran the St. Mark’s Poetry Project, reading with fellow poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. Following her work with the St. Mark’s Poetry Project, Waldman went on to found the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, along with Allen Ginsberg, at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. She has published over forty books of poetry. Waldman is the director of the MFA Writing and Poetics program at the Naropa Institute. She divides her time between Boulder, Colorado and Greenwich Village New York City. She is associated with the Beat poetry movement as well as the Outrider experimental poetry community.